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The CA(SA) cake is only so big

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The Chartered Accountancy profession is both locally and internationally well recognised as providing attractive career opportunities in various industries, highlighting the flexibility of the Chartered Accountancy, CA(SA) designation. Thinking back why I decided to study Accountancy, I chose the CA(SA) route as a bullet-proof qualification that would provide me with job security and a diverse range of opportunities. However circumstances have changed. Why is it that for some newly qualified Chartered Accountants their dream job eludes them?

 

My piece of the cake is getting smaller

In the first quarter of 2013, the South African unemployment rate was 25.2%. Why do newly qualified CA(SA)’s struggle to find employment opportunities? Based on discussions with a couple of those who fell victim to this statistic, factors such as the current status of the labour market, the role of audit firms, having sufficient experience, as well as personal choice and perceptions, were given as having an impact.

 

Changes in the labour market

The shortage of employment opportunities arise from pressure on a firm’s bottom line and changes in the labour market and the South African economic conditions. Taken into account the high cost to company associated with employing a qualified CA(SA), many companies are reconsidering creating or making positions available, which decreases the supply for qualified CA(SA) job positions. Many companies are also rather opting to employ Accountants who have completed articles but without the CA(SA) designation as a cheaper option to gain an experienced staff member, without the cost of the qualification.

 

Internationally the financial cycle has also made its mark on South Africa. It has become harder to obtain visa’s which allow employment. Fewer audit trainees are being sent on secondments overseas. Highly skilled CA(SA)’s that previously formed a large part of the employee basis in the financial sector overseas, especially in the UK and USA, have returned to South Africa.

 

Staffing solutions at audit firms

Audit firms also play a part in causing demand/supply pressures. The yearly intake of trainees by audit firms has increased over the past few years. Many audit firms prefer to rather utilise trainees representing less expensive resources, compared to experienced staff. Fewer qualified Chartered Accountants are also remaining on as audit managers entering the open market. According to the SAICA Trainee Attrition Report of 2008, many trainees believe that their opportunities to advance in audit firms are affected by employment equity policies, therefore the intake increases and simultaneously the output also. Some qualified others not, but both are able to perform the work of an Accountant, financial director or business person as they have the same experience.

 

Limited experience

The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants (SAICA) has made significant inroads into positioning the CA(SA) designation as a business designation and developing a competency framework to ensure it remains relevant. In reality, the impact of this might take some time to be reflected in market participants.

 

According to the CA 2010 Training GAP analysis research, it was found that only certain training officers are able to provide on-the-job training for “skill areas”. It was also found that the possibility of on-the-job training for most of the “residual skills”, are low in comparison to the “compulsory” and “elective skill” areas. This impact the trainee accountant’s marketability post-articles, because “residual skills” represent the majority of skills trainees need in the corporate world environment.

 

Based on a review of classifieds, it appears that the type of exposure trainees receive at the big four audit firms compared to those at medium/small audit firms give those trainees an edge above others when they apply for a vacancy in the corporate world.

 

Expectations

Most employment opportunities advertised require up to two/three years post-article experience. Trainees do not realise that their training contracts do not represent ‘CA(SA) experience’. Once qualified, they still need to gain post-article experience as a CA(SA). They believe they can walk into their dream job and earn big bucks which indicate over expectation or misperception of career opportunities.

 

Timing

Some trainees also take a break once they’ve completed their articles or due to personal choices only enter the corporate world at a later stage. This leads to them applying for jobs together with other trainees who qualify at a later stage. Again, increasing the demand for a piece of a now smaller “cake”.

 

I want a bigger piece!

How do you increase your piece of the cake? Or at least, increase the chances of getting a piece? Two parties need to come to the party: The profession and trainees.

 

To assist newly qualified CA(SA)’s who are in the process to look for employment opportunities, SAICA introduced a new web portal, The CareerSuite. The CareerSuite is job and career management portal available at www.careersuite.co.za.

 

The profession also has a part to play. Audit firms can consider providing short-term contracts during busy periods to recently qualified CA(SA)’s who has completed their articles, even if these are being offered at a reduced rate. This will assist permanent audit managers with their heavy workload during busy periods also improving the quality of work delivered, including a staff member’s wellness.

 

But trainees need to have a change in mind set and realise that they are the product. Being a CA(SA) is not a passport to success. Being level headed and having a reasonable view, is the first step to finding a job. A couple of practical tips that a trainee should consider:

  • Perception management:Perceptions must change about what your first post-article job will be. It will not be your dream job. Jobs are out there, you need to find it and this will take time. And once you get a job, it might be that you are not paid a huge salary due to having limited/no experience. Trainees thus need to amend their expectations.
  • New employment opportunities:The famous quote of “if one door close, another one opens” describes the labour market. The labour market in the USA and UK have shown a decline, but growth in Africa has led to predictions that those in possession of the skills and desire to work in Africa, will be in high demand over the next few years. Trainees must consider these as viable opportunities to gain international experience.
  • Start early:Manage your career during articles to ensure you have the correct exposure to clients that are in the field that you would like to work. Start searching for employment opportunities during articles and request that the contract begins at a later point in time.
  • Distinguish yourself: To become a better candidate for available positions, you must focus on ways to distinguish yourself from other applicants. Trainees should build their curriculum vitae’s during their articles and update it with additional skills obtained, on a regular basis. CA(SA) is a business designation, but you still need to develop business skills. Attend workshops and short courses on business and soft skills that you think you might need post-qualification. Study further and obtain a post-graduate qualification. Also consider making contact with your company’s learning and development or human capital personnel, to obtain career guidance during your articles.
  • Other things to consider: Attend networking events. Join the SAICA,Young Chartered Accountants Network – a network for young members by young members. Get involved in the profession on SAICA committees or in NPOs or trusts for example. Join discussion groups to exchange ideas.

 

Conclusion

At the end of the day, there is a responsibility on the individual to take action. It is important that CA(SA)’s pay enough attention to plan and actively manage their careers from day one in order to gain a decent piece of the cake. The onus is on you to make your career a success.

 

References

–        Apps, A. 2010; Labour market impacted. Accountancy SA. June 2010.

–        Taborda, J.2013; South Africa unemployment rate up to 25.2% in Q1 2013. Available at www.tradingeconomics.com. Date accessed: 7 May 2013

–        Ask Africa 2008; SAICA Trainee Attrition Report. Available at www.saica.co.za. May 2008

–        Ask Africa 2009: SAICA Gap Analysis Report. Available at www.saica.co.za. 2009

 

Danielle van Wyk, newly qualified CA(SA)